Nicolas Cage is one of, if not my overall, favorite actor. Though he has his fair share of faults, which critics regularly cite, seldom are his accomplishments spoken of. Recently, on an NFL panel discussion regarding who Hollywood would cast in a Tom Brady biopic, unanimously, the panel placed Cage as in the role of Commissioner Roger Goodell.
One of the members, Jon “Stugotz” Weiner, said, “A bad commissioner deserves a very bad actor, so Nic Cage goes with Roger Goodell.”
It troubles me that Cage has become synonymous with “bad actor.” In my mind, Cage is a great actor with a track record of questionable casting decisions. His roles have always, for better or worse, left a lasting impression. I don’t believe the phrase, “so bad it’s good” could exist without Mr. Cage. To me, his career embodies a famous quote by Oscar Wilde: “There is only one thing in this world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
This, in conjunction, with the idea that all publicity is good publicity attests as to why there is such a prominent social perception about Cage as an actor.
But what I am more interested in is why Cage is so often attributed as the poster child of bad acting. In many cases, actors’ careers are laced with ups and downs, successes and failure, but Cage, which has a lengthy list of both, often falls to disfavorable ends. Though the list detailing his commercial and critical successes may be much shorter, the notion that his status as an actor is as disparate as it is characterized is disingenuous.
I looked to films such as Raising Arizona, Wild At Heart, Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation, Bringing Out the Dead, and Joe as some of his best. Even The Rock, 8mm, The Weather Man, Next, and Knowing were enjoyable, though imperfect. His films that straddle the line, like Face/Off, Con Air, and Gone in 60 Seconds were enjoyable despite glaring problems and absurdities. Though it may seem I am just rattling off Cage’s films, I am really doing something more important. I am remembering them. Regardless of their content, sharing a common factor of one man, I can recall a lot about these movies. This is a testament to Cage’s success outside of the commercial and critical realms as he never leaves us bored, uninterested, and rarely are his performances forgettable.
People have also seen similar things and access why Cage has garnered his current reputation. Author Linsey Gibb, in a 2015 interview with Vice Magazine about her book Nicolas Cage: A National Treasure, explained why Cage has had such scrutiny put upon him.
“I think it’s because he’s a character actor who happens to be really famous. If someone else did it, they would be that guy in that film who you keep seeing,” she said. “But because he is the top-billed guy in movies, they expect a certain type of actor, or someone who’s cultivated a career that is one thing. But because he does so many different things, it’s hard to make sense of him.”
Cage is known for trying new things and seeking to further himself in the acting craft. Though this does not always pan out, he embarks on such forays wholeheartedly. I would venture to say that there are few performances in which Cage is simply phoning it in. Though criticism has been leveled against him in relation to his spending habits and choice in roles, his acting almost never feels subservient to any other master than Cage himself.
Addressing criticism from Sean Penn, who said “He’s not an actor, he’s a performer,” Cage responded strongly and resiliently in a 2013 interview with The Guardian.
“In a way I agree with him,” Cage said. “I would rather be a performer than an actor. Acting to me implies lying. ‘He’s the greatest actor in the world’ is like saying, ‘He’s the greatest liar in the world.’ To perform, in my opinion, is more about emotion.”
Emotion is something Cage surely does not lack. With every eccentric performance added to his volumes of work, Cage feels alive and well—a performer like no other.
Featured Image By Warner Bros.